Friday, February 18, 2011


In 2000 my darling husband and I started seriously thinking and working toward adoption to start our family. At the time I worked in an Assessment/Day Treatment program for preschoolers with social/emotional/behavioural issues. I would go into work and sit in clinical meetings and while the people I worked with were amazing and dedicated and knowledgeable and deeply dedicated to helping children and their families - they also seemed resigned to the idea that our very young kids were often destined to a lifetime of misery no matter what we did for them in early intervention. Many of our kids were in foster care (or on the brink of going into care) and my colleagues often proclaimed they were damaged and "unadoptable". I couldn't reconcile this. To dedicate your life to these children, to witness the delight my colleagues took in the escapades of our young charges only to turn around and declare such doom and gloom for the future of the very young.

When my Manager heard that we were taking the adoption classes in 2001 she congratulated me and wished me well but seemed guarded. When I told her we were looking to adopt a slightly older child (3 to 5 was our preferred age range but we would have looked at older) she tried gently to talk me out of it but stopped short of being offensive.

She did however give me a copy of "Adopting the Hurt Child" by Keck and Kupecky

The current title includes the words Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids but I don't remember those words being there originally, if it had I think I would have been thankful rather than put off by the gesture. Because to me I was surrounded by people that seemed to think I had lost my mind. I have said it before and I will say it again

We did not go into adoption thinking it would be easy, not by a long shot

But these people, my co-workers, they had seen a lot of really hard and serious stuff in their many years experience. I was young and eager and not as experienced. I wouldn't say I was naive but I think my co-workers just wanted to protect me from the very hard road they knew we would be travelling.

So the title of my post is "Confession" and this is where I divulge it:

I adopted a child at the age of 3.5 who we now understand had severe attachment issues but we forged it ALONE without therapy or guidance on what to do. I purposely avoided reading books and blogs and websites about attachment even though I KNEW good/secure attachment is the foundation for everything else in life. 

Let me explain 

During the Adoption disclosure process C had a Psychological Evaluation. At the feedback I specifically asked about his attachment and we were told that it was obvious he had been fortunate to form some attachments in his young life. After that - I tucked away the attachment piece and rarely looked at it.

I mean - I knew at a deep level the attachment issues would colour his world. How could they not? He had multiple disruptions and had experienced significant neglect (the extent of which we would not understand until much later).

But no one in our community mental health systems seemed to know anything about it - the one social worker actually said to me, even though I informed her SEVERAL times that he was three and a half when we first met him and had serious and significant disturbances in his attachment - she said "oh but surely he doesn't remember any of that"

that was in 2004 and I kid you not people

I knew she was wrong and ill informed but I got tired of trying to find someone who would understand and help us.

Over the years the topic of his attachment has been brought up and waved around but never really addressed. We forged ahead on our own. We focused on his Tourette's, his ADHD, his learning issues, his anxiety and his OCD, his Asperger's and his BiPolar but no where along the way did we really look at his attachment.

I wanted to but I only wanted to with experienced and knowledgeable people.

I had read many books and websites and blogs that scared the crap out of me. People being told to hurt, shame and/or punish their children for things that I knew in my core were not the child's fault. Tactics that were not well researched or proven were being touted as "cures".

And overall people were not optimistic about our traumatized children. All I knew was that I could not, would not purposely contribute to further traumatizing of my child.

I had not heard of therapeutic parenting

I eventually found Collaborative Problem Solving and

I went to some adoption conferences and training

We did the best we could at home

and boy was it hard

But that's my confession

And if I could give just ONE piece of advice (which I don't tend to give and only if asked) to adoptive parents who are just starting out it would be to find someone who is trained and extremely knowledgeable about attachment and adoption issues. Make sure that therapist is a good fit for your family because there are times where you will rely heavily on them.

I look at C, especially the past few weeks, particularly after I finished the Circle of Security attachment group and I am amazed at his progress. I am amazed by mine. I am also amazed by my husband's progress - he was unable to travel to CPRI with me to take the group but he has listened as I do my best to describe things. He's putting them to work and he's even reminding me at times when I forget.

I try not to feel too sad that we didn't have this earlier. I try not to feel bitter that for so long I was just flying by the seat of my pants. And now that its not all as scary and horrible as it used to seem I am reading about attachment (books and blogs) and I'm reaching out to others.

It's nice to not feel alone anymore.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reminder to Myself

Things for C are going well (and yes, I know I just tempted fate by blogging that but oh well). He has his ups and downs and every day is a challenge - and yet, he's managing everything and compared to how things have been in the past things are good.For me I gauge that he's having good days partially by if I think he is happy and partially by if I am receiving phone calls from school and the treatment centre about concerns or not. I have not been getting any calls lately and overall C seems happy.

What does that mean for me though? Does this mean that because I can tell people he is doing well that the same goes for me - that we are so entwined that his "good" day dictates that I have a good day? Cause let me tell you - his "good days" that I am SOOOO thankful for come at a HUGE cost to me. The patience and calm that must absolutely ooze out of every pour of my body in order to help him stay regulated. The work calls and tasks (yes I'm trying to do some contract work that allows me to mostly work from home) that I have to just drop, sometimes literally mid-call, to tend to his increasingly overwhelmed system.

We increased C's time at his community school this week. I had held everyone off, including C, as long as I could. I knew in my gut he was as ready as he was going to be - and yet, I've been down this road before. Even good and happy and successful experiences can wreak havoc on C. I knew that the more time he spends at school, the more he will use up all of his reserves trying to act right and control himself. Then he will come home and be dysregulated. Funny though - even though you KNOW it's going to happen there is no way to prepare fully.

So I'm doing my best to keep calm and to stay focused on what is important. It's important to be there for my son and to help him to regulate. And I do see that it is taking less from me to help him do that. I am mindful that he has made huge progress.

What I don't need are so called "professionals" who know absolutely nothing about attachment or therapeutic parenting or really anything about how to "handle" kids with anything other than threats and punishment - I don't need those people making insinuations and assumptions about my parenting. Even more so I need to remind myself that I don't care what they think - I know I am doing right by my son. I will pray that one day they will understand what we are trying to do. I will pray that they will reign in their harmful practices. I will pray that when they do one day realize how different their approach could have been that they will be able to forgive themselves because just as sure as I am that they are doing incredible harm I also know that their hearts are in the right place and they really believe they are doing good.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My "friend"

I was reading Marty's Musings over at Waldenbunch and she had posted about her "friend" financial worry that holds her back.

My friend is free floating anxiety. I've lived with it my whole life. Waking up in the morning and being hit by this horrible, gut wrenching feeling of dread and despair.

But when I take a moment to take stock of my life I quickly realize - everything is ok. I'm ok. There really isn't anything looming (usually). The interesting thing is that when there IS something to be stressed and worried about - that is when I feel really calm and just move into action mode.

So far this morning I have yelled and screamed at every member of my family. Apparently I seem to be really mad about something or at someone. But when I took a moment to reflect I realized - I'm just back to feeling anxious and worried. Much like our kids who have experienced trauma - something has triggered in me and I'm lashing out and driving people away.

But now that I have recognized and labelled my own miscuing - maybe I can sort this out sooner rather than later. Or at least one can dream. I too have a feeling that, as Marty wrote -
This "friend" and I will probably do battle for a lifetime.

What is your "friend"?

Monday, February 07, 2011

How I Stopped from Drowning

In response to my last post at Hopeful Parents, Get in the Pool, Louise of BLOOM left the following comment:
WOW!!! What a powerful post! I love this analogy of drowning and it is perfect and meaningful!!!  When you say you went through your own "drowning," when your body was failing you, how did you rescue yourself?
I told her that was a very good question, one that I have been thinking about a lot lately. I promised her I would post a follow up on my blog to answer her question. I have never written in detail about what happened in our family in 2010 but you can get a sense of my emotional state here and here.  But more specifically here is an answer to Louise's question about how did I rescue myself from drowning :

First, it's important to know that at the time this was all happening (my son in treatment 2 hours from our home, becoming a one income family, our youngest asking to schedule meetings with us in order to spend time with us) I was not aware I was drowning. I was doing everything I could to just get my son somewhere safe. Once he was safe people kept telling me that now things would get better - but they didn't get better for me, not for a long time. I had been waging my own private war for years and now my mind and body could not stand any longer. I sank under the water. For a while I just succumbed to the drowning and then things started to change over time - what follows here is my attempt at organizing and summarizing those changes.

I stopped overfunctioning more by necessity than by choice in the beginning - I looked like crap, I felt like crap. I didn't try to put on a fake smile and get through the day.I stopped feeling responsible for everyone's happiness around me - cause I could barely put my socks on or complete a sentence. I let down my guard and when people offered to help - like to make us a meal or take my younger son for a few hours, I just let them because I was too tired to try to fight it. I was too exhausted to worry about what people would think of me. I stopped cracking jokes to hide my pain and instead wrote emails and had face to face conversations with people where I cried like a baby and I told them my biggest fears. I let people hug me and offer me comfort. I stopped working and it felt like the world was ending.

While there were many things I loved about my job, it was a huge burden to me at the time. One more very big thing that needed my full attention and commitment. Attention and commitment that I just couldn't give. Freeing myself of that obligation was a huge weight off my shoulders.

I stopped offering to assist with community events etc for our local parent network. I couldn't make commitments to anyone for a period of time. I temporarily resigned from all committees and task forces (except one that only meets 4 times a year).   I told myself I wouldn't volunteer anywhere for anything for 6 months (in my head I doubted I could make it to 3 months). A year later and I am just now starting to volunteer again. 

Several times a day I begin to slip into old patterns - opening my mouth to say "yes" impulsively but now I'm finding it is taking less and less effort to slow down and sometimes say "no" or to delegate things to C's school, treatment team or in home workers. It's taking a lot of practice and while it feels foreign to me most of the time, in the end it also feels very right. I'm hoping that one day my default setting will be one of self preservation first and foremost rather than one of constant sacrifice.

Asking for Help and ACCEPTING Help
I began to understand that no one could hope to parent our son alone. I needed to ask and then let people help me more, to help him, to help our family. I needed to step back and allow others to have more of a role with our son - and people really began to step up to the plate. My Sister in law began visiting him whenever she was in the city he was in. She would bring him special treats and play with him in a way that others at the centre were envious.  Other extended family members wrote him letters and called him. I could relax about not always being with him because others were helping to fill in the blanks that the distance was creating. He began to see that other people loved him unconditionally as well, not just his mother.

As I wrote about here, I also needed to get clear about what our family realistically needed from government services and the community professionals in order to be able to plan for our son's return and to be preventative. We needed to do everything in our power to try not to head down this path again. My husband and I spoke at length and he came to more meetings with me during this time. I knew I could trust those at CPRI so I leaned heavily on them during my son's time in residence there and I did not allow myself to feel guilty about it for more than a minute.

I sent out an email to all my close friends and co-workers explaining a little as to what was happening in our family. I was clear, no sugar coating it, that our son and family was in crisis. That we were feeling isolated and overwhelmed. I asked people to not only keep us in their thoughts and prayers but also to please stay in touch - as living with a child with severe and complex mental health needs can be so isolating.

In response my co-workers started up a meal chain for us - It was a huge weight off my shoulders when someone brought a meal twice a week and I could relax and know that if nothing else happened that day at least my family ate a good healthy meal. It also made my friends feel useful, they felt like finally there was something they could do to help our family after watching us struggle for so long. They had all stopped offering to help years ago because I thought it was all my burden to carry and it felt weak and wrong to accept things from people in that way. But when I was travelling 4 hours several times a week to see our son it no longer felt weak or wrong to accept - it felt right and we were (are) so thankful for that. I see now that it was my pride standing in the way.

Connecting with People
Beyond accepting help - I knew I needed to end the isolation that had crept up on me and my entire family. When you have a child with unpredictable rages and out of control anxiety and severe loss of reality there is no safe place in the world but home is your best bet. So I made a concerted effort to find ways to share with trusted people about the trials and tribulations in our day to day life that would make me feel less alone but would not be speaking ill of my struggling child.  I needed to let my guard down and allow myself to be vulnerable to people who could be trusted. I needed to know that although it felt like if I allowed myself to cry that I would never stop, that it wasn't true. I could feel and face the emotions without being destroyed by them.I discovered that it felt really good to be hugged when I was in pain.

Taking Care of Myself
I admit it - I would always cringe and maybe kind of go "ya ya whatever" in a dismissive way whenever people, books, media would talk about how important it is for parents of children with complex needs to "take care of themselves". I always brushed it off and was more than slightly annoyed. Sure, take care of myself when I can barely get through each day. Sure, let me get right on that.

The truth however, long before I became a mother I had decided that I wasn't worth spending time, attention, money on. I did the very basic as far as hair and clothes and rarely went out or spent time with friends. The why of this could be a whole other book post. All I know is that having the children I have just severely decreased the likelihood that I would take any time for myself.  Hitting the bottom of that pool and almost drowning changed that. Being a martyr wasn't working for anyone. It was time to create "me" time and to not only NOT feel one ounce of guilt about it but to also defend that "me time" and activities within an inch of my life. My soul, my very existence requires me to protect the time to do activities that I enjoy - that fill up my lungs with air so that I can swim to the edge of the pool and hoist myself out.

I needed to find ways to take care of myself - to unplug from the world and find inner peace and joy. I needed to reach out to friends and acquaintances and go for coffee and get a massage (*note: I have some serious sensory issues and it was a HUGE leap for me to give and receive hugs, to move on to getting a massage was monumental). I needed to put down all the books about disorders and government and lack of funding. I needed to focus on reading silly, lighthearted books and taking bubble baths. I needed to get my hair done and drink way too many coffee's. I needed to do things that felt good, that felt freeing, that I had long ago abandoned and forgotten.

I also spent money I didn't have to go back to therapy. I needed to be able to talk to someone, to process with someone all that had and was going on in my life. I needed a safe place to fall apart and to explore and to sort through. It was a hard decision in that it was not cheap and I always felt like I should be able to do it without therapy. But that argument with myself was short lived. I was fighting for my life and I believe in therapy and so I went and I worked hard.

I needed to fiercely believe that my son would be ok and I needed to believe that even if he wasn't that we would survive it. I needed to purge our lives of the negative, naysayers who did not support our son and/or did not share his vision for how he wanted his life to be.  I will write more about this later.

So there is my first attempt to summarize how I stopped drowning. Really it was a combination of learning how to swim better and grabbing hold of the lifeline's that people threw to me. I'm curious to know - have other parents felt like they were drowning at times? If so - what did you do? what helped you?  Post a comment or link to your blog. I'm far from done this part of my life - I feel like I'm hanging on to the edge of the pool catching my breath - fully aware I could start to sink any moment if I don't keep moving. 

Friday, February 04, 2011

In the Meantime

I'm working on a few posts but I need to be able to focus for a period of time and since C is in a dysregulated state that is not likely to happen soon. So, in the meantime, I did come across this broadcast about Juvenile BiPolar Disorder on the Coffee Klatch on blogtalkradio with Alissa Bronsteen Director of the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation and and Demitri Papolos author of The Bipolar Child . I found it really interesting (what I've been able to listen to so far) and several times found myself wondering if someone had shared our son's file with them.

I thought perhaps other's might be interested so here it is.

Alissa Bronsteen Dr Demitri Papolos - Child Bipolar 11/21/2010 - The Coffee Klatch | Internet Radio | Blog Talk Radio